Cultural Lag of the Mordern US

1154 words | 4 page(s)

“Cultural lag” is a term firstly used by the scholar William F. Ogburn in 1922. William F. Ogburn intended to show that frequently changes in societal culture turned out not congruent with the economic changes that took place. Ogburn’s hypothesis therefore was based on the premise that many cultural changes will lag behind ongoing changes in society’s material conditions (Yoshida 65). The scholar’s example of one such culture lag was the evident discrepancy in the matters related to the division of labor. Economic changes in the society went ahead of the change in societal ideology, which considered every female’s place to be at home (Yoshida 65). THESIS STATEMENT: Current discords between the ideals of marriage/family and practices determined by the ongoing material changes in the world represent the cultural lag of the modern U.S. society because of failing perceptions of singlehood, filial obligations, and women’s roles in families.

The first feature of the cultural lag in the U.S. society is marriage and family relationships ideals’ lagging behind the current practices brought about by changes in the U.S. society related to the steady technological progress. Within the framework of the patriarchal pro-marriage ideology, those individuals that stay unmarried because of the choice to successfully pursue a career instead of running a family, end up entrapped in a modern culture lag (Byrne & Carr 84). The following controversy takes place. On the one hand, the current demands of the U.S. macroeconomic progress clearly sustain and even encourage singlehood and living beyond families. On the other hand, U.S. societal marriage ideals still view the latter as an indisputably ideal state. In this context, singlism is being understood as a practice of living which violates the society’s ideology of marriage. As a consequence, this ideological practice results in single people’s excessive exposure to stigma. The stigma is logically rooted in our society’s perception of people who are single as some “victims who have defaulted to singlehood rather than as powerful agents who have maintained personal relationships that fulfill their own preferences and desires” (Byrne & Carr 85). Even more, although the state poses the requirements of the steady economic progress and acknowledges changing labor conditions, it paradoxically persists in a supporting the view of marriage as essentially “an institution of privilege”. By this, it is implied that married status confers legal, as well as social, and even financial benefits on those who are married while withholding these benefits from those people who remain single (Byrne & Carr 86)

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With reference to all that has been said above, the consequence of cultural lag may also be found in the nature of currently accepted vision of family relationships. Altering material realities exert considerable pressure on those beliefs and values that are shared among the members of our society regarding caregiving practices. Conventional filial obligations, as it turns out today, have come into visible tension with the current material realities aligned with the ongoing social change. Specifically, many U.S. society members clearly fail to adapt the long-held ideals to the modern conditions. This is particularly true if one considers traditional filial obligations in African-American households. There the tensions described above ultimately lead to maladaptation, in William Ogburn’s terms.

In all African-American communities, the widely shared ideal of old people’s care is the one of rigid filial obligation. The research by Groger & Mayberry conducted back in 2001, which examined the issue of cultural lag in the context of the African-American family structure, allowed the authors to identify powerful commitment of African-American individuals to the filial obligations irrespective of sex and age. People who participated in the four focus groups within the research almost unanimously disapproved of the suggestion to place their elderly in one of the nursing homes. Furthermore, such placement was considered “rescinding one’s filial obligation” (Groger & Mayberry 28). The study participants shared a common view that the elderly had to be taken care of by family members even if the quality of the family relationship, financial, or emotional conditions are imperfect.

However, the research by Groger & Mayberry also found that African American caregivers who actually provided elderly care at home experienced extensive emotional as well as physical burnout. They also encountered material constraints. As for the families in which the elderly had been placed in nursing homes, children there either felt guilty or good regarding the placement while both acknowledged obvious benefit for the elderly the latter got from the formal care. Groger & Mayberry’s study made an attempt to highlight the benefit of elderly African-Americans’ placement to the nursing homes and presented it as a means of adaptation to the ongoing material changes. The scholars also were able to show the effect of the concept of cultural lag on existing intra-family relationships as they relate to care.

Regarding family relationship, the issue of the cultural lag has effected current discrepancies between a de-facto shift of gender roles in almost every family and idealization of the conventional patriarchal approach to the family. Dugger found that the balance of family member relationships in a family unit have been rooted in the change of women’s roles in society (Dugger 136). He noted that female rates in participation in modern labor force considerably rose, and that made them significantly less dependent on male support. Thus, the relationship balance found within marriage ultimately turned out to be far more egalitarian than it actually was in the past. Yet, Dugger further admits, these changes in the gender balance hardly got reflected in the U.S. state ideology (136). The patriarchally colored definition of the institution of family remained widespread defining the latter as “a householder and one or more other persons living in the same household who are related to the householder by birth, marriage, or adoption” (Dugger 130). The example above has been used to show how definitions which are essentially structurally oriented clearly lag behind changes in the society, in particular changes in the domain of gender relationships within a traditional family.

The scholarly evidence found in Byrne & Carr, in Groger & Mayberry, and in Dugger provides sufficient support of the argument that there is a cultural lag between the ideals of marriage/family and actual practices conditioned by the technologically advancing society. This cultural lag manifests itself through discords that currently take place in the issues of singlehood, filial obligations, and the role of a woman in a family.

  • Byrne Anne and Carr, Deborah. “Caught in the Cultural Lag: The Stigma of Singlehood.” Psychological Inquiry: An International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory, 16. 2-3 (2005): 84-91. Print.
  • Dugger, William. Inequality: Radical Institutionalist Views on Race, Gender, Class, and Nation. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996. Print.
  • Groger, Lisa & Mayberry, Pamela. “Caring too much? Cultural lag in African Americans’ Perceptions of Filial Responsibilities.” Journal of Cross Cultural Gerontology 16.1 (2001): 21-39.
  • Yoshida, Akiko. “Role of Cultural Lag in Marriage Decline for Japan’s Boom and Bust Cohorts.” Marriage and Family Review, 46: 1-2: 60-78. Print.

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